The Highlanders secured the win, and all-important bonus point, they needed away in Canberra, while the Blues, up 28-0 at halftime, sat back to keep the admirable Force out to remain at the top of the table.
The Crusaders needed a win, a bonus point and a 33-point winning margin, but in the final wash-up were seven points short.
That left the Crusaders third, the Hurricanes fourth and the Chiefs fifth, albeit with a new record holder for most tries in a game – five – by wing Sean Wainui.
Of the Australian sides the Brumbies fared best, 16 points on differential ahead of the Reds. The Force, with one bonus point, were next with the Rebels and Waratahs winless.
Hurricanes 43 Reds 14
Neither side was in a position to affect the final outcome of the tournament, yet for 60 minutes produced a fine contest that had the final result in doubt. But a penalty try, with a second yellow card in the half, allowed the Hurricanes to seize control. However, this was a classic example of where the final scoreline did not reflect the game. That ruling was like a 14-point dagger in the heart of the Reds' effort. At the same time there was delight for the home team in seeing the departing second five-eighths Ngani Laumape open the scoring with a trademark try, but more importantly there was a clear sign for the future in the manner of first five-eighths Ruben Love's try. Hooker Dane Coles came on and demonstrated his experience again by being in the right place, at the right time, on the left flank, to score the first of two tries on the night.
Hurricanes 43 (Ngani Laumape, Ruben Love, Dane Coles 2, Devan Flanders tries; Penalty try; Jordie Barrett 4 con, pen) Reds 14 (Tate McDermott, Brandon Paenga-Amosa tries; Bryce Hegarty 2 con). HT: 10-7
Brumbies 12 Highlanders 33
Halfback Aaron Smith said he would like nothing more than to be part of denying either the Blues or the Crusaders a place in the final, so his two tries, and general organisation of his side, were enough for the Crusaders to fall short in their quest. It was a patient effort by the Highlanders who didn't have their necessary bonus point until the 62nd minute. But they kept their eye on the prize and had their reward. More innovative play, of which they have been the masters in the competition, produced a lineout variation try for another key performer on the night, Billy Harmon. And it wouldn't be a Highlanders' effort without a mauling try to Smith's co-captain Ash Dixon.
Brumbies 12 (Len Ikitau, Lachlan Lonergan tries: Bayley Kuenzle con) Highlanders 33 (Ash Dixon, Aaron Smith 2, Billy Harmon, Patelesio Tomkinson tries; Mitch Hunt 4 con). HT: 12-14
Rebels 26 Crusaders 52
So near yet so far for the Crusaders. They needed a bonus point and a 33-points margin to deny the Highlanders a finals place, but they could only manage 26. They got close with about six minutes left when centre Leicester Fainga'anuku was ruled to have made a double movement, and the Rebels cleared. There were moments of Crusaders clarity in some of their try-scoring moments, notably their tries to fullback Will Jordan and second five-eighths Braydon Ennor, but there were also untidy moments which the Rebels were good enough to capitalise on. Their last attempt to bridge the gap, highlighted the frustrations when in a back movement, the Rebels gained a turnover, kicked deep and the Crusaders were left defending their line when time ran out. That lost bonus point a week earlier against the Force proved costly.
Rebels 26 (Trevor Hosea, Joe Powell, Glen Vaihu, Frank Lomani tries; Carter Gordon 3 con). Crusaders 52 (Mitchell Drummond, Will Jordan, Leicester Fainga'anuku, Sevu Reece 3, Oliver Jager, Braydon Ennor tries; Richie Mo'unga 6 con). HT: 12-26
Blues 31 Force 21
Knowing they only needed the win to secure a home final, the Blues set about their work on the back of some stunning tackling to unsettle Force ball carriers allowing them to build forward momentum. That allowed No8 Hoskins Sotutu some rare freedom when running ball to score two tries. Slick passing also saw wing Mark Telea, and flanker Dalton Papalii, in for tries for a halftime lead of 28-0. The third quarter was sloppy as the Force scored two tries and the Blues infringed. But in the process the pack produced some outstanding defence with skipper Patrick Tuipulotu leading the individual tackle count with 13 while Sotutu made 11 and hooker Kurt Eklund and Papalii made 10 each. The Force scored three tries to close the final margin but they never looked like pegging the Blues back.
Blues 31 (Hoskins Sotutu 2, Mark Telea, Dalton Papalii tries; Otere Black 4 con, pen) Force 21 (Feleti Kaitu'u, Tevita Kuridrani, Rob Kearney tries; Ian Prior 2 con; Domingo Miotti con). HT: 28-0
Waratahs 7 Chiefs 40
Signs were ominous from the start when only seconds after the kick-off, left-wing Sean Wainui back from a long injury break, was on the end of a slick, old-fashioned backline passing movement to score. He was to cross four more times before the game was out – a Super Rugby record - capitalising on some fine driving work from his forwards with No8 Luke Jacobson and flanker Lachlan Boshier prominent. It was a heavy defensive night for the Chiefs as the Waratahs tried to use the ball only to fall victim to turnovers and poor decision-making as they ended the season without a win. Their 13 consecutive losses an Australian record, and only four short of Super Rugby's worst, held by the Lions.
Waratahs 7 (Mark Nawaqanitawase try; Will Harrison con) Chiefs 40 (Sean Wainui 5, Viliami Taulani tries; Bryn Gatland 5 con). HT: 7-14